Summary: Alice and Bastien confront her trauma and find a way to spend some time alone before Regina arrives to attend the opera.
Notes: I used some of the original PB dialogue and bedazzled it a bit.
CW: References to sexual assault and violence.
New to the series? Catch up here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8,Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25, Part 26, Part 27, Part 28, Part 29, Part 30, Part 31, Part 32, Part 33
The next morning, Alice awoke first as the train pulled into Bordeaux and she couldn’t help but watch the beautiful man sleeping beside her. She snuggled closer to him, unwilling to accept the start of her day, but she knew it was only a matter of time until Maxwell came banging on her door. Alice pressed a gentle kiss to Bastien’s neck, causing him to stir.
“Hey, Gray,” he murmured sleepily. He pulled her closer to him, tilting her face towards his for a kiss before he settled down again and closed his eyes. “What time is it?”
“Almost time for a Beaumont invasion,” she said. He smiled, eyes still closed.
“That is extremely unfortunate,” he said. “Can’t we just tell everyone to go away?”
“If only we could,” Alice said. “Is there anything planned for the tour today?”
“Actually, no,” Bastien said. “But today is kind of the calm before the storm since the queen mother is going to rejoin the tour tomorrow.”
“Wonderful,” Alice said sullenly, burying her face in his shoulder.
“How are you feeling about that?”
“Thrilled,” she said darkly. “I hate feeling like I’m in limbo with everything. I know Liam said he needed time to figure out what to do, but being around them and knowing what they planned…god, the thought just makes my skin crawl.”
“If it’s any consolation, I know Liam hasn’t forgotten and he’s taking it very seriously,” Bastien said, opening his eyes as he turned his face to look at her. “He’s really stressed about the threats we’ve been getting and he wants to handle your situation with the severity it deserves without destabilizing the monarchy.”
“I know,” Alice said. “I just hate having everything hang over my head like this.”
“Not to make things more difficult for you, but we need to be really careful while Regina is here,” Bastien said. “If she suspects that you know the truth about the plan, or if she suspects you and I are back together…I can’t risk anything happening to you.”
“You think she’ll try to do something?”
“Assassinations are real, Alice,” Bastien said. “Regina and Constantine orchestrated the death of Liam’s mother, and Eleanor was the queen. I can’t lose you.”
“So what does that mean for…this?” Alice asked, gesturing to the two of them in bed.
“We’ve been careful and Madeleine doesn’t seem to be paying attention since she thinks she’s won by getting engaged to Liam, but Regina is a whole different type of monster,” Bastien said. “We have to be even more careful than before.”
“But she’s not here yet,” Alice said, raising an eyebrow at him.
“No, she’s not,” he agreed.
Alice closed the distance between them and pressed her lips against his. They kissed with slow, mercurial kisses that left her unsure of where she ended and he began. She felt his fingers trace a measured path down her spine and she slid her leg up over his hip, pulling him closer. For the first time in what felt like forever, she felt a flicker of desire within her, a lighter sparking before holding a flame. Alice felt Bastien’s fingers move from her back to her ankle, fingertips lighting ghosting over her her calf to her knee before they paused, hesitant to move forward without her approval.
“Yes,” she whispered against his lips as she pressed herself closer to him, a familiar feeling she’d missed. Bastien’s fingers continued, feather-light up her thigh before they reached the hem of her pajama shorts and paused, pressing more firmly against her skin. Alice gently rocked her hips against his and he followed her lead, making her moan softly when she felt his hardness press against her. Her heart beat faster, although she couldn’t have said if it was from arousal or nervousness. She tried to push the latter from her mind and she let her hand drift from his face, down his chest, and between them to palm his hard length through his boxer briefs. Bastien groaned at her touch before he suddenly pulled away.
“What’s wrong?” Alice asked breathlessly. “Did I do something wrong?”
“Absolutely not,” Bastien said quickly. “I love everything that’s happening here, but…I think we need to talk first.”
“What about?” Alice asked, although she already knew the answer.
“You know what, Gray,” he said gently. “I love you and I don’t want to run the risk of re-traumatizing you by doing something that might trigger you.”
Alice rolled onto her back and sighed, trying to process how she felt. She was frustrated that Bastien had brought it up, but she also knew he was right. She wanted him desperately, but part of her was relieved they’d stopped.
“Thank you,” she said finally, turning to look at him and finding his gray eyes watching her intently. “God, I’m sorry, this isn’t fair to you.”
“Why are you apologizing?” Bastien asked. She looked away from him, staring up at the ceiling.
“Because I’m damaged,” Alice said, trying to ignore the tears prickling at her eyes.
Bastien sat up quickly, looking down at her. “Alice Ayers, you are not damaged.”
She looked over at him and mustered a small smile. “You never call me by my full name.”
“I had to make sure you were paying attention. There is nothing about you that I see as being damaged.”
“Really? Because I feel pretty fucking broken most of the time,” she said, the first tear slipping out of the corner of her eye.”
“Come here,” Bastien said, motioning for her to sit up. She did so and he took her hands in his. “I know it might feel that way, but from my perspective, you are so incredibly strong and resilient. I wasn’t bullshitting you when I said you’re the bravest person I know.” He paused, thinking for a moment. “‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid? That is the only time a man can be brave.’”
Alice smiled weakly. “George R.R. Martin?”
He nodded. “You, my love, are the dragon. You continually emerge from the fire, each time more powerful than the last.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re the strong one here.”
“Nope. I’m just trying to keep up with you.”
“I’m tired of pretending I’m fine all the time.”
“So don’t pretend with me,” Bastien said. “If you feel like you have to with other people, then fine. But you never have to be anything but yourself with me, whatever that is.”
She brought his hand to her lips and kissed it. “I do feel bad about something else.”
Alice gestured to his lap, trying to smile. “I got you all fired up and we’re stopping.”
Bastien rolled his eyes and laughed. “Trust me, I’ll live. Hey,” he said, squeezing her hands. “I love you for so much more than a physical connection.”
“I know, I didn’t mean to imply you didn’t,” she said. “I was trying to lighten the mood.”
“I know,” he said, leaning in to kiss her, a smile on his lips. “I just wanted to make sure we were on the same page.”
Just then, a familiar, enthusiastic knock rapped against her door.
“And it looks like your alarm clock is here,” he said with a grin.
“Just a minute!” Alice called as Bastien stood up and dressed, pulling on his jeans and t-shirt. Then he sat down on the bed again.
“I’m not in any rush, so don’t feel like you have to hurry or do anything before you’re ready.”
“I want to, I do,” Alice assured him. “I’m just…I don’t know. I want to be ready.”
“You will be,” he promised, leaning over to kiss her. “We can talk more when Maxwell isn’t literally banging down your door.”
As if on cue, Maxwell knocked again.
“I love you, Dorian,” she said.
“I love you, too, Gray,” he said. ”Text me later?” She nodded and he stood up and crossed the room to open the door for Maxwell. He nodded to the younger Beaumont before he left and Maxwell entered the room, closing the door behind him.
“Good morning!” Maxwell exclaimed. “How are you?”
“Fine,” she said. “Where’s Bertrand?”
“He’s, um…not really speaking to me right now,” Maxwell said.
“Do you blame him?”
“No,” Maxwell admitted. “I should’ve told him.”
Alice sighed. “Yes, you should have, but you can’t change that now. I’m sure he’ll talk to you when he’s ready.”
“What if he doesn’t?” Maxwell asked quietly. “What if I’ve messed up too badly this time?”
“Sit down,” Alice said, patting an empty spot on the bed beside her. Maxwell hung up the garment bag and sat. “Things are going to work out.”
“But what if they don’t?”
“They will,” Alice said. “And by the way, I’m very uncomfortable with a dynamic in which I have to be the optimistic one.”
Maxwell smiled. “I know, it’s weird.”
She leaned over and hugged him. “No matter what, you still have me.”
“Thanks, Alice,” Maxwell said, returning her embrace. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Olivia walked down the train corridor until she found the room she wanted. She tried the door and, finding it unlocked, slammed it open.
“What the fuck?” came the angry mumble from inside the dark room. It smelled faintly of whiskey, sweat, and vomit, making Olivia wrinkle her nose in disgust.
“I need to talk to you,” she said, flipping on the light.
“Ow, shit, Olivia!” Drake grumbled as he pulled his pillow over his head. “Go away.”
“No,” she said. Olivia looked around for somewhere to sit, but decided against it and instead stood in the center of the room with her arms folded over her chest. “I have to talk to you about last night.”
“I don’t want to talk right now,” Drake said, his voice muffled by the pillow. “Especially not to you.”
“Too bad,” Olivia said. “What the hell were you thinking throwing a scene like that at Liam’s party?”
“Please, it was his second bachelor party and he’s engaged to a psycho,” Drake said. “There was hardly anything to celebrate.”
“That doesn’t mean you had to make everything about you,” Olivia snapped. “And what the hell was with you announcing Bertrand’s business to the entire party?”
“It’s my business, too,” he argued. “It was about my nephew and Bertrand broke my sister’s heart.”
“And Savannah was a selfish little girl who hid his kid from him,” Olivia said. “I think they’re even.”
“Don’t talk about my sister!” Drake snapped, pulling the pillow away from his face. He sat up, wincing at the sudden movement. “Ow. Can you at least turn off the light?”
“No,” Olivia said. “And what was with you yelling at Alice like that?”
“What do you care? You hate Alice,” Drake said.
“No, I don’t,” she admitted, then took a deep breath. “Look, I get that you have feelings for her, but you need to get over it.”
“I don’t have feelings for her,” he said unconvincingly.
“I don’t have time for you to play pretend right now,” she said. “The people we love don’t always love us back the way we want them to, but we have to deal with it.”
“I heard how you helped Alice after…well, after,” Olivia said, ignoring him. “But she’s in love with someone else and you have to get over it and stop drinking yourself into oblivion. She doesn’t owe you anything just because you were nice to her.”
“I know she doesn’t owe me anything,” Drake said angrily. “That’s not why I was there for her. We’re friends.”
“But you wanted it to be more.”
“Maybe eventually, yeah,” Drake said. “There, I admitted it. Are you happy now?”
“I’m never happy. And you’re disappointed, I get it, but you don’t need to yell at her,” Olivia said. Her voice softened a little. “Liam’s worried about how much you’ve been drinking.”
Drake laughed bitterly. “That’s why he’s here instead of you, right?” Olivia said nothing, choosing instead to raise an eyebrow at him. Drake deflated a little. “I just…I’m tired of feeling so much all the time. I miss spending more time with Alice, I miss hanging out with Liam, I miss my sister, I’m pissed at Savannah for running away, I’m pissed Maxwell kept it a secret, I’m pissed that Bastien also kept secrets from me…I don’t know. It’s a lot.”
“People are going to disappoint you. They’re people, it’s what they do. But all the people you just mentioned love you and you’re only pushing them away by acting like this. So knock it the fuck off, I don’t want to come back in here,” Olivia said, glancing around. “It’s disgusting.”
With that, she left, intentionally leaving the light on.
Alice returned to her room after breakfast and had just sat down on the sofa with a book when she heard a tentative knock on her door. She crossed the room to open it and was surprised to see Drake standing there.
“Hey,” he said, running a hand through his hair, still wet from a shower. “Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Sure,” Alice said, stepping back so that Drake had space to enter the room. She gestured to the sofa and Drake sat down heavily.
“Um…I want to apologize for how I acted last night,” he said. “I shouldn’t have been so mean to you.”
“I can handle it,” she said. “Have you apologized to Bertrand yet?”
“No…he didn’t want to talk to me.”
Alice snorted. “I don’t blame him.”
“Alice.” His use of her first name stilled her. “I’m sorry.”
She sat down next to him. “Drake, you’ve been…drinking kind of a lot lately.”
“I know,” he said, averting his eyes. “Trust me, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that today.”
“I’m not trying to make you feel bad, Drake, I’m worried about you.”
He sighed and leaned back on the sofa. “I don’t want you to worry about me, you’ve got enough to deal with right now.”
“It’s not a contest. I can have my own shit to deal with and still care about how you’re doing,” she said.
“Well, thank you,” Drake said.
“Thank you for apologizing.”
Drake nodded and stood up. “I’m gonna go, but I’ll talk to you later?”
“Sure,” Alice said. Drake waved awkwardly before he left, carefully closing the door behind him. She stared at her door for a while before finally turning back to her book.
A little while later, Alice was surprised to hear another knock at her door. With nothing officially scheduled for the day, she’d planned on holing up in her room with a book, but so far her room had felt like Grand Central Station.
“Hey!” Alice exclaimed, surprised when she opened the door to find Bastien standing there. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d be busy all day preparing for Regina’s arrival tomorrow.”
“Oh, I’ve had that done for a few days now,” he said with a grin. “I actually had something else in mind.”
“What’s that?” Alice asked, curious.
“What would you say to getting out of here for a night?” he asked.
“There’s a great camping spot near here and, if you’re up for it, I’d love to take you,” he said.
“Don’t you need to be here?” Alice asked. “And do you even have camping equipment?”
“Don’t worry about that, I’ve got it taken care of,” Bastien said. “Come on, what do you say? We can get away from everybody’s issues and just be normal for a night.”
Alice grinned. “That might be the sexiest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
Bastien checked to make sure the hallway was clear before he leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Be ready in an hour.”
“Doing okay, Gray?” Bastien asked, glancing over his shoulder at her as they hiked along the trail.
“You’re sure we’re not going in a circle?”
He laughed. “I’m sure. We’re almost there.”
After a few more minutes, the trees cleared and Alice realized they were standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
“Wow,” Alice said as Bastien wrapped an arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head. “This is…”
“Right? I told you it was pretty out here,” he said with a grin.
“You didn’t do it justice,” Alice said before finally tearing her eyes away from the view. “Should we start setting up camp?”
Together, they unpacked the tent and started setting it up.
“You seem like you’ve done this before,” Alice commented as he effortlessly fed the poles through the lines.
“Not exactly,” Alice said.
“I used to go a lot with the Walkers when Drake and Savannah were kids,” Bastien said. “Their dad, Jackson, loved camping and he always insisted I come along and get out of the palace for a couple of days.”
“Sounds like you guys were close,” Alice said.
“Yeah,” Bastien agreed. “We were. Jackson was my best friend.”
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but what happened to him?”
“He died protecting the royal family,” Bastien said, avoiding her eyes as he focused on the tent. “There was an assassination attempt on Leo when he was in high school and Jackson took a bullet for him. It hit him in the leg and he bled out before he could get medical attention.”
“Oh my god,” Alice said, momentarily forgetting the task at hand. “I’m so sorry.”
“Thanks,” Bastien said, still focused on the tent. “But it’s one of the hazards of the job. We all know what’s at stake when we join the royal guard.” He stepped back. “Tent’s done.”
“Hey,” Alice said as she walked over to him and slid her arms around his waist. He looked down at her, cupping her face in his hands. “Thank you for telling me about Jackson.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “Thanks for listening.” He gently tapped the worried crease in her brow. “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
“I’m always worried about you,” she said. He leaned down and kissed her sweetly.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go get some firewood.”
Later, after the sun dipped below the horizon and daylight faded into nighttime, Alice and Bastien sat by the fire with her in front of him, a flannel blanket wrapped around them.
“Are you sure we have to go back tomorrow?” Alice asked.
“I wish we didn’t have to,” Bastien said. “But, if you say the word, we’ll just defect from court and build a cabin in the woods.”
“That sounds wonderful,” she said leaning back against him. He kissed her temple and hugged her tighter.
“I’ve always wanted to do that,” he said.
“What, run away and live in the woods like the Unabomber?”
He lightly pinched her side, making her laugh as he tickled her.
“Not exactly like that,” Bastien said. “But I have always wanted to build a cabin somewhere. I got the idea after camping with Jackson and the kids so often and it’s always kind of stuck with me.”
“What kind of a cabin do you want?” she asked.
“Nothing big, just a couple of bedrooms. No TV though.”
“Does this start of a horror movie also have no power?”
Bastien laughed. “No, no, it would have power and indoor plumbing, I promise. But I’ve always wanted a quiet place with lots of books and natural light, maybe a garden.”
“Am I allowed to visit you in this cabin or is it a private clubhouse?” Alice teased.
“Hey, the cabin isn’t worth it unless you’re there with me,” Bastien said as he gently kissed her neck. “All I want is to read books and kiss you. Is that too much to ask for?”
Alice shifted slightly so she was looking at him over her shoulder. “It sounds perfect to me.” Then she kissed him, forgetting everything else in the fading firelight.
Shortly thereafter, Bastien extinguished the fire and they crawled into their tent by the light of their lantern. They changed for bed and Alice sat for a moment as she watched Bastien zip their sleeping bags together.
“Can we…continue that talk from this morning?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said, sitting cross legged on the sleeping bags and motioned for her to join him. She crawled over and sat in front of him and he immediately took her hands in his, threading his fingers between hers. Alice tried to make sense of the swirling thoughts in her head and he waited patiently until she finally spoke.
“I really want to have sex with you, but sometimes I feel so disconnected from my body,” she said. “It’s sometimes hard to reconcile the two and my brain just…goes somewhere else.”
He nodded. “That makes sense,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
“Just…keep doing what you’re doing,” Alice said. “You’re really affectionate and I love that, and that honestly does a lot to help bring me back into myself. Especially since I know I can put on the brakes at any time.”
He squeezed her hands. “You got it.”
“As for when things do progress further…” Alice swallowed, uncomfortable memories pushing their way to the forefront. “There are a couple of things I’m not sure I’m ready to handle yet.” She looked up and saw him waiting patiently for her to continue. Alice took a deep breath and said everything in a rush. “No hair pulling, no restraining my arms, and I don’t want you behind me.”
“Of course,” Bastien said. “Is there anything else?”
“I don’t think so,” she said, relief flooding her. Now that she’d said it, Alice wasn’t sure why she’d been so nervous to talk to him.
“You know, if you want, you’re welcome to restrain me,” he said with a slight smile. “I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to do that so you can have some extra assurance that you’re in control.”
“You’d be okay with that?”
“Okay with the gorgeous love of my life taking charge? Yeah, I think I’m fine with that,” he said, his smile spreading into a grin. Alice scooted forward and climbed onto his lap, wrapping her legs around his waist.
“Do you have any idea how much I love you?” she asked as she folded her hands behind his neck.
“‘My god, if your love were a grain of sand, mine would be a universe of beaches,’” he quoted.
“It’s not a contest,” she said, laughing as he buried his face in her neck, inhaling the smell of her.
“‘As you wish.’”
The following morning, Alice woke up feeling disoriented. For a moment, she couldn’t figure out why she was in a tent, but then she remembered her impromptu camping trip with Bastien. But where was he?
“Bas?” she asked as she pushed herself up into a sitting position.
“Out here!” he called.
Alice grabbed her hoodie and pulled it on before she unzipped the tent to see Bastien cooking by the fire.
“Almost ready,” he said, glancing up at her with a grin. “If you want to stay in the sleeping bag where it’s warm, I can bring it to you.”
“Are you seriously cooking me breakfast?” she asked, smiling.
“I promised you ages ago I’d make you breakfast,” Bastien said. “I’m just sorry it took me so long to deliver.”
It took Alice a moment before she remembered the conversation they’d had, back before the social season had taken them to Lythikos.
“I should get going. Maxwell is likely going to be kicking down my bedroom door in a few hours to get ready for the trip to Lythikos.”
“I wish you could stay here.”
“I know, I do, too. But…”
“I know,. But if you could, I’d make you breakfast in the morning.”
“Well, much like a puppy, I am very food-motivated. What do you normally have for breakfast?”
“Black coffee. But I promise I’m a very good cook and I could make you whatever you wanted.”
Alice climbed out of the tent and sat on a blanket Bastien had already spread out near the fire and he soon handed her a plate of bacon and eggs with a thermos of hot coffee.
“You realize that you’re spoiling me to the point where I’m never going to be able to go back to the way I was before you, right?” Alice asked as she took a bite. “Oh my god, this tastes so good.”
“That’s the idea, Gray,” he said as he sat beside her with his own plate, kissing her on the temple.
Later that night, as Alice arrived at the opera in a sparkly, floor-length rose gold gown, she could hardly believe that only that morning, she’d been in the woods wit Bastien. At this point, she wasn’t sure which situation felt more unreal.
“Ready?” Maxwell asked as they headed into the opera house atrium, a gleaming chamber of elaborate marble and gold.
“Nope,” Alice said. “But when has that ever stopped us?”
“I wish Bertrand had come,” Maxwell said.
“Me, too,” Alice said. “Who else is going to lecture me about not behaving appropriately in public?”
Maxwell smiled, but it fell quickly. “Did he tell you why he wasn’t coming tonight? Is it because of me?”
“No, it’s not because of you,” Alice assured him. Just before they’d left, Bertrand had confided in her that he wanted to take advantage of a nearly empty train to try to call Savannah.
“If you want me to go tonight, I can,” Bertrand offered. “I know the queen mother is going to be there.”
“No, I’ll be fine,” she assured him.
“Are you sure? Because–”
“Bertrand,” Alice said, cutting him off. “It’s okay to take care of yourself. I’m covered. And only a phone call away in case things go sideways.”
He surprised her by hugging her gently. “Thank you.”
Alice then noticed the queen mother sitting to one side, surrounded by sycophants as she perched primly on a sofa. Alice felt her breath catch in her throat and swallowed hard, trying to ignore the pounding of her heart.
“Hey, where are we sitting tonight?” she asked in an attempt to distract herself.
“Excuse me, Lady Alice?”
Alice and Maxwell turned to see a servant standing nearby. “The queen mother has requested to speak with you.”
“Oh, okay,” Alice said, trying to ignore the buzzing anxiety in her skin. She and Maxwell started to walk towards Regina when the servant stopped them.
“My apologies, Lord Beaumont, but the queen mother requested to speak with Lady Alice alone,” he said apologetically.
“Oh, of course,” Maxwell said. He gave Alice’s arm a comforting squeeze. “I’ll wait for you by the stairs, okay?”
Alice nodded, trying to ignore her pounding heart. She took a deep breath and forced herself not to look for Bastien, even though she desperately wanted to see him to fortify her. Instead, she remembered what he told her.
“You are the bravest person I know.”
I can do this, Alice thought to herself as she crossed the atrium. I’ve got this.
“Hello, Your Majesty,” Alice said politely when she reached Regina, surprised by how steady her voice sounded as she dipped into a low curtsy.
“Lady Alice,” Regina said, eyeing her up and down as she waved away everyone else from her side. “Your curtsy is less tragic than before, I can tell you’ve been practicing.”
“Thank you.” Oh, fuck off.
“Please, sit,” she said, gesturing to the open spot beside her on the sofa. Alice sat, her nerves so tightly coiled that she felt ready to spring at any moment. “So, you’re still with us on the tour.”
“Yes, King Liam was very kind to include me,” Alice said.
“I’m not sure I’d be so forgiving if you’d publicly humiliated me, but to each their own, I suppose,” Regina said.
“You wanted to speak with me, ma’am?” Alice asked as she made a conscious effort to keep her leg from shaking.
“Yes,” Regina said as she surveyed the room. “I wanted to make sure you are…behaving yourself.”
“Behaving myself?” Alice asked, panic jolting her. She knows about Bastien and me getting back together. Fuck.
“I just want to ensure there’s no…interference…with Liam and Madeleine’s engagement,” Regina said.
“Liam and I are just friends,” Alice said.
“Oh, I know,” Regina said dismissively. “Your tastes are much more base than Liam. However, I’ve heard that he’s been spending more time with Olivia Nevrakis.”
Oh god, Olivia. “They’ve been friends for a long time,” Alice said carefully, trying to pick her way through the conversational landmines.
“I just want to make sure you’re not doing anything to encourage their friendship,” Regina said, finally turning to look Alice straight in the eyes.
“If Liam falls for someone else, isn’t it his right to marry whomever he wants?” Alice asked.
“It’s his duty to do what’s best for Cordonia,” Regina said, her face hardening with each word. “If you’re such good friends, then I recommend you remind him of that. Court is a dangerous place,” Regina added, her gaze boring into Alice’s. “Anything can happen. To anyone.”
Alice suddenly felt short of breath and she fought to keep her composure. Fortunately, a royal servant approached, bowing deeply.
“If you’ll excuse me, Lady Alice, this is my escort to my box. I’m afraid I must take my leave of you.” The staff member held out his arm and Regina grasped it, rising to her feet before turning to look at Alice again. “I hope you understood our talk.”
“Of course, ma’am,” Alice said.
Regina nodded and allowed herself to be escorted away. A few moments later, Maxwell reappeared at Alice’s side.
“What did she want?” Maxwell asked as Alice stood up, gratefully taking his arm to hold her steady.
“I need to talk to Olivia.”
Maxwell nodded. “Sure. Actually, you can do that right now. Liam just caught me and asked if I’d bring you to his private box. He said he has a surprise for you.”
“Is it a puppy?” Alice joked, trying to shake off the discomfort of her conversation with the queen mother.
“God, how great would that be?” Maxwell asked. “Let’s convince Bertrand that we need a dog. Ooh! Let’s get a corgi!”
When Maxwell dropped Alice off at Liam’s box, she was surprised when Liam pulled back the curtain to reveal Olivia and Bastien already inside.
“Took you long enough, Jon Snow,” Olivia said, raising an eyebrow at her as Bastien stood up.
“Regina pulled me aside to talk to me,” Alice said.
Bastien quickly reached past her to shut the door. “What do you mean she pulled you aside to talk to her?”
“She wanted to talk to me about you,” Alice said, turning to Olivia.
“What? Why?” Olivia asked, sitting up a little straighter as Liam put a protective hand on Olivia’s shoulder.
“Apparently, she’s been informed that you and Liam are spending time together and she wanted to make sure I’m not ‘encouraging your friendship,’” Alice said. She glanced over at Liam and saw his face grow stormy and dark in the dim lights of the box.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Liam asked, his voice dangerously low.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Olivia asked. “She wants to make sure nothing jeopardizes Madeleine becoming queen.”
Alice looked to Bastien, who was deep in thought. “What?”
He shook his head sadly. “I should’ve made you get on that plane.”
“No, no one is running away from this,” Liam said angrily. “God, she can’t do this!”
“She’s doing it,” Bastien said.
“Then we need to figure out how to stop her,” Liam snapped.
“You can’t just go to the press and accuse her of anything without proof,” Alice said.
“We have the complete photoset of you, that has to be worth something,” Liam said.
“It’s not enough,” Bastien said. “They could easily say they didn’t know anything about it or they’d just pin it on Penelope or me. Your father and Regina are basically bulletproof.”
“No one is bulletproof,” Olivia muttered. Everyone turned to look at her. “I didn’t mean that literally.”
“So what do we do then?” Alice asked.
“I don’t know,” Liam admitted, frustrated. “God, I’m so angry I feel like I can’t think straight.” He thought for a moment. “At the very least, new security measures need to be put in place. Bastien, I need Olivia to have round the clock security detail. Also, you’re officially reassigned to Alice.”
“But if word gets back to your father–” Bastien started to protest, but Liam stopped him.
“Screw my father. No one is going to protect Alice better than you will. And I need you to pick at least two guards–ones you trust to be loyal to me over my father–and assign them to Olivia. Immediately.”
“Liam, is that really necessary?” Olivia asked. “We–”
He leaned down and silenced her with a kiss, her eyes widening with shock before she closed them, relaxing into the kiss.
“Yes,” Liam said when he pulled away, looking Olivia in the eyes. “It’s necessary.”
For once, Olivia was speechless.
“I can take care of that right now,” Bastien said as he pulled his phone out of his pocket. “I’ll be right back,” he said to Alice before he stepped out of the box, closing the door behind him.
“Well, this is not how I thought tonight was going to go,” Liam said as he sat down heavily beside Olivia. “I thought I was just going to be arranging a covert double date.”
“Date?” Olivia asked, turning to look at him. Liam smiled at her and took her hand in his as Alice smirked and the lights in the opera house flickered, urging people to their seats.
“You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
The lights dimmed and Alice took her seat beside Olivia. A few minutes later, Bastien joined them.
“How much danger am I in?” Alice asked quietly as she leaned over to Bastien. He kissed her temple.
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “But I’ve got you.”
He hoped it was a promise he could keep.
When the opera ended, Alice, Liam, and Olivia returned to the atrium with Bastien keeping a safe distance from them. The room buzzed with activity as servers circulated with trays of champagne flutes and Alice noticed Maxwell and Hana standing near the bottom of the stairs.
“That was amazing!” Maxwell exclaimed when the two groups converged. “I’m feeling so inspired…I’m going to write a breakdance opera! It’ll be my magnum opus!”
Alice laughed. “If anyone can successfully compose and choreograph a breakdance opera, it’s you.”
Maxwell beamed. “Thanks, Alice.”
“Am I the only one who found the show highly disappointing?” Olivia asked. “Mozart has always been too subdued for my tastes.”
“Subtle has never been your forte,” Liam agreed, grinning at her.
“I much prefer Wagner or Puccini. They really knew how to compose tragic stories of ill-fated couples and bloodshed,” Olivia said.
“That’s…grim,” Hana said slowly.
“And very on brand for you,” Alice said.
“I would have expected a beheading, at least,” Olivia added.
“A beheading definitely would have spiced things up,” Maxwell agreed. “I’ll jot that down. Keep the ideas coming!”
“At least the venue has charm,” Olivia conceded. “Did you know that this building is modeled after an ancient Nevrakis castle?”
“The architecture is really beautiful,” Alice said as she glanced around the room. She took the opportunity to look for Regina, but didn’t see her anywhere. Not that that didn’t mean she wasn’t still somehow watching them.
“House Nevrakis is known for our striking and impenetrable construction,” Olivia said proudly. “This opera house is a very faithful copy, though they left out the fighting pit. Shame.”
“Ooh, a fighting pit!” Maxwell exclaimed. “That could be the backdrop for the big breakdance battle finale!”
“Well, I loved the show,” Hana said. “I wish it could have lasted forever…that last aria was absolutely divine.”
“Forever?” Maxwell asked. “But aren’t you excited for the court to go to Shanghai tomorrow?”
“Wait, we’re doing what?” Alice asked. “Jesus, Maxwell, you really need to print out a copy of the itinerary for me or something.”
“Sorry,” Maxwell said. “Hey, guess what! We’re going to Shanghai tomorrow!”
“We’re actually going to visit my family there!” Hana said as Drake made his way over to the group. “It’s a bit last minute, but my father coordinated with the engagement tour so my parents could host everyone.”
“Hey, where have you been?” Liam asked Drake. “I was looking for you earlier.”
“Opera isn’t really my thing,” Drake said.
“Does that mean you were just sitting out in the limo for the last three hours?” Alice asked, amused.
“What? No! I was…you know, walking around and stuff,” Drake said, his face flushed.
“Walking around the opera house?” Hana asked.
“Neither seen nor heard?” Maxwell asked.
“Almost certainly scowling and brooding?” Hana asked.
“They sound like you,” Drake said, pointing an accusatory finger at Alice.
“I can’t help if I’m a fabulous influence,” Alice said with a grin. “Hey, if you’ve been skulking around this whole time…does that mean you’re like a phantom of the opera?”
“I hate you.”
“Come on, Drake, you can’t deny it. The phantom of the opera is there…” Alice teased.
“Insiiiiiide your mind!” Maxwell finished, singing with a flourish of his hands.
“As much fun as it is to watch Drake squirm, I’m going to have to say goodnight,” Olivia said. “I still have to pack for tomorrow.”
“I’ll escort you back,” Liam said. “Goodnight, everyone.”
He patted Alice on the shoulder as he and Olivia left and Alice turned to watch them go, smiling a little to herself at the way Liam looked at her as he tucked Olivia’s arm in his.
“It looks like it’s starting to clear out in here anyway,” Alice said as she looked around.
“Yeah, our flights are pretty early tomorrow and I’m guessing I’m the only one who has already packed,” Hana said.
“You’re definitely the only one who’s packed,” Drake said.
The group started walking towards the door, Bastien quickly falling in step behind them.
“Hey, is Rashida coming to Shanghai?” Alice asked quietly, linking her arm with Hana’s. Hana blushed furiously.
“Actually, she is,” Hana said. “I’m really nervous though; what if she doesn’t like it?”
“She hasn’t been to Shanghai before?”
“No, she has, but…”
“Ah, gotcha,” Alice said. “I’m sure it’ll be great.”
“Except my parents don’t know about her. Well, they knew who she is, but as for my…whatever she is…”
“Feel free to throw me between you and them as a buffer,” Alice said as they reached the limo. “I’m an excellent buffer.”
“Could we possibly stop hurling you in front of trouble?” Bastien asked as he followed them into the limo with Drake and Maxwell close behind, the latter still enthusiastically planning his opera. Alice squeezed Bastien’s hand and rested her head on his shoulder as the limo pulled away from the curb and wound its way through the streets to the train station.
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